Before starting as Managing Director in January, I spent over 5 years working for a local publisher of online magazines focused on solutions-oriented coverage of urban areas. I was deeply invested in local media, specifically, focusing on innovative ways to tackle the changing landscape of news in the face of newsrooms’ shrinking capacity across the country.
Now that I am at CultureSource, my career has evolved into working in the arts, an area that is often cut from the news cycle as local papers downsize. So, when I started thinking about a piece to contribute to our blog, the opportunity to reflect on the intersection of arts and journalism was immediately interesting to me.
A Turning Point
Since I began writing this post, however, the world has been changed dramatically by the COVID-19 pandemic. CultureSource has shifted into working almost exclusively to support our members and partners in the arts and culture sector through the crisis, and an interesting opportunity for alliance with the media has come out of this work. Last week, CultureSource hosted a curated conversation with members of the press and leaders in our sector to create a space for discussion about ways our local media can support arts and culture institutions as they face an incredibly uncertain future. It was comforting to hear that the leaders of our region’s major news organizations understand the monumental challenge that faces museums, concert venues, theaters, small arts organizations, and artists alike, because of the pandemic.
Well before the COVID-19 crisis began, local news organizations were experiencing their own crisis. For the last decade, the media has experienced a massive shift. Local news organizations have struggled to exist, and many that survived were bought by large corporations. News outlets that have weathered the storm have been finding new ways to diversify revenue streams to stay afloat. Because of this, local news sources in communities across the county have been forced to report on a shrinking budget, meaning many areas of coverage, like the arts, have been lost.
This Poynter story, published last summer, outlines how the arts touch so many areas of reporting that we may not realize, and there are many angles that beat reporters can take when involving the arts in their storytelling. The arts have an impact on the economy, education, and government, and with fewer and fewer reporters assigned to arts stories, news outlets may need to be thoughtful about ways to incorporate coverage of the arts by tying it to other issues.
Claiming Our Power
Journalism has the power to influence people on a mass scale, and access to free news coverage is crucial to democracy, especially in a crisis. As a coalition of arts organizations and institutions, we can put pressure on local media outlets to cover our work and plan for how to cover events, concerts, etc. when institutions are finally able to re-open.
What Organizations Can Do
Here are some ideas for arts organizations to engage their local media outlets in a meaningful way:
- Write an op-ed for your local paper about your organization’s reaction to COVID-19
- Think about the story you tell about the community impact of your work – is there room to rework it? This exercise might create a good opportunity to get your organization covered – how does your work intersect with other important issues in your community?
- Get to know the people who are filling gaps in coverage beyond the local daily papers (this might be artists themselves, or influencers & local people with a large social media following)
- Tell your own story on your organization’s website and social media channels. Done right, Instagram can be a great tool for getting your work noticed and engaging with people, especially at a time when so many folks are leaning on social media for connectivity.
- Reach out to your local NPR affiliate – where do they need content? Is there an opportunity to collaborate? In Southeast Michigan, a few options are WDET, WUOM, and WMEU
- Think about the gaps your organization fills in your community and create content around the importance of your work (ex: How Art Can Soothe Us in a Time of Crisis)
Coverage of arts and culture has the ability to spark meaningful dialogue, empower people to engage with one another, and highlight the importance of how creativity can bring people together in a crisis. It also gives people the information that they need to come together and fight for cultural resources to be preserved, vote on issues, and recognize the importance of the role arts and culture plays in their own communities.
We are doing our best to promote resiliency and thinking ahead into the future at this uncertain time. CultureSource would love to hear from you or connect you with any news outlets that we have access to, so that you may tell your story. Our sector’s voice is crucial right now.
Readings I’ve enjoyed:
Confronting Asian-American Discrimination During the Coronavirus – The New Yorker
Life on Lockdown in China – The New Yorker
We Need a Hard-Pause, Followed by a Soft Start – The Atlantic
Photos from a Century of Epidemics – The New York Times
Poetry Rx – Poems for Social Distancing – The Paris Review